Ask any high school student what it means to be prejudice. You may hear about the 20th century conflicts over African American equality. You may even hear about gays and lesbians, immigrants and even unfair work place practices towards women.
So often discrimination and prejudice are thought of in very clear cut terms. There is a danger in this. What happens when the prejudice is not part of the established curriculum examples we studied in school? How do we as a society react? How do we as individuals react?
These questions have been popping into my mind a lot lately. This week is Holy Week for Roman Catholics - one of the most sacred times of the year... as well as one of the times we as individual Catholics have to endure all sorts of prejudice from those who dislike our Church as a whole.
I can bet any reader right now can rattle off a litany of examples of how they or someone they know has been mistreated (by any definition of the term) by a member of the Catholic Church. Such feelings and examples are not to be disputed here in this post. What I do ponder are OUR responses to what we feel are injustices.
Many of the great civil rights leaders of our History textbooks achieved great change and cultural awareness in their life times. Did they do this by attacking those who attacked them? Did they fight hatred with hatred? Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr advocated non-violence and peaceful dialogue over mud slinging and slander. How do we react when we are wronged today?
Since the start of Lent, my Facebook wall has been flooded with disturbing pictures and sayings aimed directly at insulting the Catholic faith - the pope - the clergy - fill in the blank. These examples of Internet graffiti do little to help one's cause but do cause pain to those who might already be suffering because of the struggles they endure WITH their Churches.
When one feels wronged a response is expected, but the style and integrity of that response is what makes the difference. Mud slinging and hurtful rhetoric do little good to anyone or any cause.
On any issue I have seen that all sides are responsible for the same acts of immaturity and all equality capable of sinking to a lower level. Who will take the high road? Who will act as an individual instead of hiding behind the "movement". Who takes ownership of their own actions and attitudes rather than just being one of the many?
In addition to enduring the anti-Catholic slangs and pictures that inevitably come about any time there is a major religious observance or holiday, many of my friends and I have become the object of racial prejudice as well.
"Racist" has become the defense of many co-workers anytime a white manager/co-worker tries to reprimand a black co-worker for any work infraction(s). I use the primitive terms of "white" and "black" not out of offense but because I never hear myself referred to as European American - and the term Caucasian relates back to the old concepts of racial hierarchy: Caucasoid, Negroid and Mongoloid. So naturally, I don't like those terms.
In these work related cases I don't think the racist in the work place are the white employees whose jobs it is to make sure EVERYONE is doing their jobs properly. I think the racism can be placed at the feet of those who use race and color as a shield to hide behind and excuse them from accepting blame for their own actions or lack of actions (relating to their work performance).
There is no such thing as "reverse discrimination" or "reverse prejudice". Discrimination and prejudice are not just one way streets. Blacks can be just as guilty as whites. Sadly, there is a strong cultural taboo from anyone lamenting these instances.... at least not out loud.
This entry was not designed to give a thesis of answers - but to ask a list of questions. In what way do we as individuals respond to racism, discrimination and prejudice? What are our individual prejudices that we ALL do have? And how do we let them affect how we interact with each other? Where is the difference between pay back, getting even or causing harm? Is there a difference?
Perhaps our previous examples of prejudice and discrimination stemming from the 1950s/60s Civil Rights movements and Women's Rights movements are no longer adequate to address the models of today. Perhaps our teaching and examples need to be updated and expanded upon - beginning not in our textbooks, but in our own lives.